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The 2020 Legislative Session is rolling along and moving quickly. The last day for senators to designate a priority bill is February 21, the half way mark of the session is February 25 and the last day for hearings is February 27.
I introduced five bills and a substantive resolution this year.
LB 903 is a bill to authorize the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue a license plate recognizing Downs Syndrome Awareness. Mike Adams and Mark Kuecker are part of DADS of Omaha, requested the bill introduction. I am happy to do so.
LB 973 is a bill to create a statutory structure for homeowners associations and to assure that homeowners can install solar energy systems.
LB 1112 is a bill that change the definition of a forensic exam after sexual assault. Currently there are state and federal dollars that pay for the forensic gathering of evidence and testing for sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. However, it stops short of paying for treatment. LB 1112 would add the preventative treatment of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy to the definition.
LB 1113 is another bill requested by a constituent from Omaha. This bill inserts clarifying language into the definition of interfering with a peace officer to say that recording an officer in the line of duty is NOT interference as long as the person doing the recording is in a public place or a private place they have the right to be.
LB 1168 is a bill to redirect part of the lottery dollars that go to fund educational programs. The $1.4 million involved in this bill will increase the availability of students to take dual credit courses and career and technical courses.
LR 294 is a resolution written by the students of Prairie Hill Learning Center asking that the State of Nebraska official recognize the climate crisis, the human causes of climate change and take steps to combat it.
I named LB 1188 as my priority bill yesterday. LB 1188 requires the Department of Health and Human Services to hire a superintendent to oversee the schools that teach children during their stay at one of the youth rehabilitation centers. Two other bills will be amended into LB 1188 before it is advanced from Committee. The goal of these bills is to improve the processes NDHHS uses to assess and plan treatment for youth. Given the recent incidents and dereliction of responsibility by the state to properly care for these youth and the buildings housing them, I felt this bill to be of utmost importance. It will be part of the solution proposed by Senators Sarah Howard, Tony Vargas and the Health and Human Services Committee. I’d like to thank Senator Howard for encouraging me to be part of this solution.
Last week three Legislative Committees held a joint hearing on LB 289. The Revenue Committee, the Education Committee and the Retirement Committee all participated in this hearing that lasted from 4 p.m. to 10:50 p.m. It was a long one. I am on all three of these Committees.
LB 289 is an attempt to provide property tax relief and restructure how schools are funded without changing the current “needs” formula. Senator LouAnn Linehan filed AM 1381 that becomes the bill so the hearing addressed both. There were a four proponents in favor of the bill and many opponents.
After the hearing a revised version, AM 1572, was filed. AM 1572 to LB 289 proposes to raise the state sales tax rate from 5.5% to 6%. It raises the cigarette tax from 64 cents per pack to $1.00 per pack. (There has been attempted almost every year for the last decade to raise the cigarette tax.) The increased revenue from these proposed rate increases will be credited to the Property Tax Credit Cash Fund. The proposed operative date is July 1, 2019.
The amendment repeals the Personal Property Tax Exemption beginning in tax year 2020. AM 1572 also proposes to repeal the sales tax exemption for a number of services. The most harmful items are car repairs and home repairs. Beginning tax year 2020, the amendment proposes to reduce taxable value for residential and commercial/industrial from 100% of market value to 90% of market value. Agricultural and horticultural taxable value would be reduce from the current 75% of market value to 65% of market value. The proposed reduction in the taxable value for residential and commercial/industrial land reduces the acceptable range for valuing the property to 82% to 90%, instead of the current 92% to 100%. The acceptable range for agricultural land would reduce to 59% to 65% of actual value from the current 69% to 75%.
The amendment also changes allowable levy rates for school funding and creates a “basic” funding mechanism similar to what we used to call foundation aide so that the state aid to schools would actually increase and school districts would have less dependency on property tax. There are many other details in the bill – too numerous to explain in this article. The Committee has now advanced the bill to General File with AM 1572. Debate on it will begin next Tuesday, May 7, at 1:30p.m. I will be analyzing the bill and consulting with constituents over the weekend.
I commend the effort to find property tax relief and to fully fund schools. It’s a tall order and no one knows yet if this is the right combination to pass the Legislature. More information and all things related to the Nebraska Legislature can be found at nebraskalegislature.gov. The Unicameral Update newsletter is found in the “For Citizens” menu on the left side of the home page under “Legislative Publications.” As always you can contact me via email at email@example.com and by phone at 402-471-2327.
Legislative Update March 18-22:
Constitutes of District 31,
We have seen severe flooding with people across the state dealing with devastating losses. Governor Pete Ricketts and Vice-President Mike Pence will be surveying the damage done by the waters. In addition, the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) will be meeting with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Lincoln to work out an expedited declaration of emergency to the White House.
Recovery is beginning already. NEMA has answers many questions you may have about what can be done to assist Nebraskans affected by flooding. You can access that information on their website at https://nema.nebraska.gov/ and can call at (402) 817-1551. For information about debris removal, call the Crisis Cleanup Hotline at (402) 556-2476. If you or someone you know is looking for information about livestock recovery, the Farm Service Agency office website (https://www.fsa.usda.gov/state-offices/Nebraska/index) will answer any questions.
In legislative news, Tuesday (3/19) was the deadline to designate bills as a priority. Each Senator picks one of the bills they feel is most important and designate that bill as a priority. A Senator picks one, any committee can select two, and the Speaker can designate up to twenty-five bills. Priority bills are generally considered before other bills. A bill with this designation is almost guaranteed debate once moved out of committee.
As listed previously, Senator Kolowski has chosen LB 619 with AM 287 as his priority. This bill looks to assure insurance coverage of mental health services provided by a credentialed mental health professional in a school setting. This will help many Nebraska students and their families and reduce the time a student is out of the school day for such services. Students that receive these services are still entitled to their education in the least restrictive environment, and this bill will help Nebraska students get their needs met. LB 619 with amendment 287 were advanced to the second round of debate, known as Select File, on Monday, March 18th. From here the bill has 2 more opportunities for debate before a final vote.
Also on Monday, LB 409, my bill to update design and construction codes for health care facilities was advanced from General File, or first round of debate, to Select File and is now in line for the second round of debate.
On Wednesday, March 20th, I will be speaking to the UNL President’s Advisory Council. This group is an invitation only group who serves in an advisory capacity to the University of Nebraska president. There are around 100 members that represent each of Nebraska’s forty-nine legislative districts. Members serve as advisors for the president on issues that impact them as students. I will be giving these students an overview on the legislature; a look at our members, some procedures for how it runs, a brief look at a few bills, and information on my committee assignments.
You can read all about the happenings at the Unicameral at the Legislature’s website at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. It has a wealth of information about every bill, Senator and news of what is going on it the Legislature. Unicameral Update is a weekly newsletter you can subscribe to or read on the website. Each debate and hearing are streamed through NET on their local channel or through a link on the Nebraska Legislature’s web site.
I am proud to serve as your state Senator! I and my staff will continue to serve District 31 as best we can. If you have any concerns about upcoming legislation or just want to give your input, you can reach us at (402) 471-2327 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weekly Update: March 4-8
Hello from Lincoln! We are working hard to continue to pass our introduced bills. Two of our bills had hearings this week, LB 619 and LB 620. I have designated LB 619 (Requires health care plans to pay for mental health services provided in schools) as my priority bill with AM 287. I am looking forward to working with my fellow senators on getting this important legislation and many others passed in the coming weeks.
This past week, I was fortunate to hear constituent concerns through the Black and Brown Legislative day event put on by the Urban League of Nebraska. This program aims to help communities of color to bring their concerns about legislation that affects them to Nebraska Senators. It was great to hear their concerns and how I can help their communities continue to prosper.
On Wednesday, I also attended the Economic Development Task Force lunch and learn, “Overview of Tax Incentive Programs in Nebraska.” This presentation gave me and other senators in attendance an overview of tax incentive principles. Presenters included Josh Goodman of the Pew Charitable Trusts, Anthony Circo of the Legislature’s Performance Audit Committee and Renee Fry of Open Sky.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Senator! I and my staff will continue working hard to serve the people of District 31. If you have any concerns about upcoming legislation or just want to give us your input, you can reach us at (402) 471-2327 or by email at email@example.com.
This session, I have introduced seven bills. The following gives the statement of intent for each bill and a brief explanation of its purpose.
January again saw the beginning of the Legislature for 2019. New Senators were sworn in on the first day and voting for Committee chairs took place. Changes in seniority and committee chairs creates many changes in room assignments. In addition, the replacement of the heating and air conditioning system has one quarter of the building under renovation. Senators who would normally be on the first and second floors are temporarily moved into some of the upper floors of the tower. Before you come to visit your Senator it’s a good idea to visit our website or call to confirm the room number.
This year, 739 bills have been introduced, only seven of which I’ve introduced. The topics of my bills include banning tanning for persons under 19, design and construction standards for health care facilities, a sales tax holiday for back to school clothing shopping, texting while driving, solar panels and accessibility for voters. I will write about each one of these bills in future posts.
This year, I sit on two standing committees – Education Committee and Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. I have also been reappointed to the Midwestern Higher Education Commission. Committee hearings have started and will continue through March. In April we will go to full days of floor debate on bills and the state budget.
The Nebraska Unicameral is unique because, not only is it the only Unicameral with one house but because every bill introduced gets a hearing. In other states with a House of Representatives and a Senate, not every bill gets a public hearing. The Unicameral provides citizens the chance to weigh in continually from the beginning “idea” stages to the final product in the third round of floor debate. When the Legislature is not in session, Senators and citizens are working on gathering information on topics of interest and preparing for the next year.
In encourage you to contact me about any legislative bill or governmental concern you may have. Much information is available at www.nebraskalegislature.gov. You can search bills, look up information on Senators, find Committee reports and if you don’t know who your Senator is, there is a “Find your Senator” function. Please take advantage of this great resource. If you are reading this post on the Legislature’s website, you will also find many useful links on the right side of this web page. Thank you for allowing me to represent you in the Unicameral.
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers would ensure the state recognizes civil rulings made by American Indian tribal courts under a bill prompted by a dispute about whether an athlete could participate in a high school wrestling program.
The wrestling disagreement was resolved, but supporters of the legislation said it pointed out the need to make clear that tribal rulings should be enforced as other rulings would in Nebraska.
“It’s about the tribal laws and state laws, and how they coordinate so that there’s not a difficulty that would trip a family up and ruin a season or a competition,” said State Senator Rick Kolowski, of Omaha, who proposed the bill.
The matter began in 2007 when John Keen tried to enroll his son, Taylor, in a Nebraska high school wrestling program.
Keen, 43, was given legal custody of his son Taylor after he and his wife divorced in 1992. All of the proceedings took place in a Cherokee Nation tribal court in their native Oklahoma. But Keen, who is part-Cherokee and part-Omaha, said he encountered problems after his son returned to live with him in the Omaha area for his senior year.
He enrolled Taylor at Elkhorn High School in 2007 after he moved from his mother’s home in Oklahoma, where he had lived for the last year. John Keen said he presented school athletics officials with a tribal court order to show that he had legal custody of his son, Taylor.
“They said, ‘This isn’t a court,'” Keen said. “I said, ‘Well sure it is.’ That’s where I was born and raised. It’s where my son was born, and it’s where his mother and I divorced. Everything we did had to stay with that court.”
Keen and his attorney said his son was rejected because of NSAA rules that generally require student athletes to live with a custodial parent. The rules are designed to keep students from “school-shopping” for a particular athletic program.
The matter eventually was resolved, but Keens said it cost him more than $10,000 in legal fees.
Keen said a friend from the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska called him recently and asked for money to help address a similar problem. Frustrated, Keen said he reached out to his attorney and Kolowski, who represents him in the Legislature.
Kolowski said he proposed the legislation is modeled after a state law in Iowa that recognizes civil judgments in tribal courts and allows the state to enforce them.
Taylor Keen was eventually allowed to wrestle once his father showed that he had legal custody of his son and that the two were living together. Velder said the association has recognized tribal-court rulings for decades, but officials weren’t able to confirm right away that Taylor Keen met the eligibility requirements. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality rules.
“In Nebraska, we would accept the tribal court as a court of competent jurisdiction,” she said. “I’ve been here for 33 years, and that’s always how it’s been.”
John Keen’s attorney, Ben Thompson, said the association initially refused to recognize the order but did so “after a lot of convincing” in a meeting with the group’s attorneys.
Thompson said the Nebraska bill includes several procedural safeguards to ensure that litigants in tribal court are given due process, and that the court was the proper authority to hear a case.
“Here in Nebraska, I think we’re a bit behind the curve on these issues,” Thompson said. “I’m hoping we can catch up and join the 21st century.”
Judi M. gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, said the proposal represents an important step in ensuring tribal courts are acknowledged by the state.
The courts have gained recognition in recent year, “but it’s a really slow battle,” gaiashkibos said. “The status quo wants to remain the status quo.”
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